As part of my 50by50 initiative, I wanted to do a month where I stepped away from the computer. I briefly toyed with the idea of no screens, but between work and a lot of digitally-enabled hobbies I have, that wasn’t very feasible. Nor am I a hysterical hipster worried that screens are going to destroy civilization.
For me, it is and always will be about balance. As much enjoyment as I get from some activities, some other activities are equally enjoyable but often not engaged in simply because old habits are just easier to follow.
I am not a giant social media person — I basically have only about 100 friends on FB, and when it goes above that, I start to get stressed that there is too much superficiality in my feeds. I also avoid drama in my feeds, so keeping it down to less than a hundred helps with that. On Twitter, it is mostly just about me posting review links. I don’t actively engage much. That’s it, that’s all. I’m not on Instagram or Pinterest, or Linked In, Google+, a bunch of others. FB and Twitter.
Now, I confess that while I had no fear of leaving Twits behind for a month, I was wondering about FB. Over the last few years, I have become a bit more isolated from friends and family, and could a month without FB break remaining ties? Would I feel MORE isolated after a month? It could happen, I suppose.
On January 1st, I posted a Happy New Year message, and then went radio silent. I share a few things a day sometimes on FB, so probably 100 shares fewer over the month. And no reading. I warned people I was doing it, just so nobody would notice that I went from active to ghost overnight and start asking, “Who was that masked man?” or worse, no one even noticing.
I broke the “fast” only twice, both intentionally. Some people message me through FB Messenger, and I didn’t treat that as verboten. For me, that was just an alternative to email, which was running strong throughout the month. So I did have 3-4 messages throughout the month that I responded to but without going into regular FB. I also went on Twitter once as I was looking for usage of a specific hashtag possibility and I wasn’t sure if people tagged the “noun” in question as “#noun” or #TheNoun. Wasn’t a big issue, just wanted to not wait until today to find out, and while I was on, I didn’t look for or at anything else. I got in, and got out.
Now, interestingly, I had three reactions throughout the month.
First, sure, I did feel a bit out of the loop on stuff. Enough that I would choose to return rather than just calling it quits on FB entirely. I like the interactions, some of the jokes and teasing. And heck, if my wife can use social media to teach about poop knives, who am I to say I shouldn’t be following along? (Okay, I missed some of you, I said it. Not my family though. Pfttt)
Second, I was surprised how much the social media options were integrated with some of my emails. I do subscribe to a bunch of feeds, some news-related or curations of interesting things, but a couple of them are almost all links to things being shared on social media. I put them all in a folder called “hiatus”. Similarly for when I was tagged in things, I put the notification in the hiatus folder to look at later. I relied on my wife to let me know if anything big or urgent cropped up anywhere.
Third, here is the interesting thing. Since I wasn’t spending time on FB or Twitter, I was far more productive elsewhere. I had lots of extra time. Now, I know some people think that I’m talking about time wasted just reading status updates, but that wasn’t the time suck. It was that because I wasn’t on FB, I wasn’t seeing the dozen or so articles per day that people shared, and clicking on them while I followed a funny cat video down a rabbit hole. Equally, I wasn’t clicking on LongReads (a curated feed) that shares lots of great longer articles — I usually enjoy 1-2 topics per week, minimum. And while I read fast, some of the articles could take 10 minutes for me to read.
FB is like a gateway drug. It wasn’t the drug itself, it was what it opened me up to afterwards. I never really thought of it before, but often after dinner, and we put Jacob to bed, I’ll get on my computer and rather than doing something productive, I would start perusing FB posts. 60 minutes later, or more, I was now tired enough not to want to do anything productive. So I would do a bit and then off to do something else (laundry, TV, whatever).
Without the distraction and rabbit holes, I would clear my email and be ready to be “productive” after about 10 minutes. Sometimes less. Which gave me a fair amount of other time to work on projects. I felt like I had a lot more productive time over the last month, just by elminating the gateway clicking on FB. Wasn’t quite what I expected.
Not only would I do it again, I feel like I may do it intentionally and consciously when I know I have some projects to get finished. I was able to focus a lot better, which is intuitive, but far more effectively in general than I would have expected.